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Human rights council holds annual half-day dicussion on the rights of indigenous peoples

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held its annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples, focused on follow-up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and its outcome document.

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The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held its annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples, focused on follow-up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and its outcome document. In her opening statements, Mona Rishmawi, Chief of Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this panel discussion provided significant opportunities to discuss the extent of the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, noting that at the World Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, States had committed themselves to real action in areas such as the impact of major development projects on indigenous peoples and the participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making. Another key commitment was to step up work to combat violence against indigenous women. The real test of the Conference’s outcome document was how decisively Member States, indigenous peoples, the United Nations system and other stakeholders would follow it up. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and panel moderator, said that the objectives of the panel were to take stock of measures undertaken by States and other stakeholders to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and identify good practices and challenges in the implementation at the national and international level. This panel would also be an opportunity to discuss the review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Council’s examination of the causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls, the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations processes, and the United Nations system-wide action plan for the achievement of the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The panellists were Albert Kwokwo Barume, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Myrna Cunningham Kain, Member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples and former adviser to the President of the General Assembly for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples; and Alejandro González Cravioto, Director for International Affairs of the Mexican National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples. Mr. Barume said that the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in Africa remained of great concern, particularly the situation of those indigenous peoples caught in conflicts. The lack of implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was not entirely due to the lack of political will, but also due to the lack of capacity and resources that constrained many African States. A renewed Expert Mechanism’s mandate, with a focus on capacity building, technical assistance and policy framework, should target several key actors in Africa that continued to show a lack of understanding of indigenous peoples’ issues, and also include businesses, media and the African Development Bank which remained the only regional Bank without a stand-alone policy on indigenous peoples. Ms. Cunningham Kain underlined the responsibilities of the private sector in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples and stressed the important role of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in addressing the situation of indigenous women and discriminations they faced. States should develop their national action plans, and Ms. Cunningham Kain presented initiatives by the Board of Trustees in Nicaragua to support the elaboration of such plans, and invited other States to support this first stage of initiatives and the implementation of the outcome document of the World Conference. Mr. Cravioto said that it was a priority to continue efforts to push forward individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Mexico had carried out a programme seeking to strengthen social and economic protection for indigenous peoples, as well as indigenous people’s access to justice, health, education, food and housing, and had carried out joint activities between the executive and the judiciary to strengthen leadership by indigenous women. Internationally, Mexico was a leader in pushing indigenous rights further, and a supporter of strengthening of the international mechanism for the rights of indigenous peoples. In the ensuing discussion, speakers said that the systemic violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in some parts of the world continued, violence against indigenous women was pervasive in many countries, while the increasing arrival of foreign investments into many countries further exacerbated the loss of land and resources of indigenous peoples and led to significant environmental destruction of their territories. They welcomed concerted global efforts to fully make the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a reality, and supported the recommendation to the United Nations Secretary-General to develop a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration. Speakers underlined the importance of the implementation of the World Conference outcome document through national plans of action, highlighted the importance of States engaging actively with indigenous peoples in the elaboration of such plans, and inquired about mechanisms which could improve indigenous peoples’ ownership of development. The review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be conducted with attention in order to avoid a negative impact on other existing mechanisms, and the new mandate could assist States to better implement Universal Periodic Review recommendations related to indigenous peoples. Speaking in this discussion were the European Union, Finland on behalf of the Nordic Countries, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Australia, El Salvador, Poland, Peru, Sierra Leone, Philippines, Ukraine, United States, Canada, Chile, Republic of Congo, Bolivia, Estonia, Guatemala, New Zealand, Malaysia, China, and the Holy See. Also speaking were Defence for Children International, Indigenous World Association, Native American Centre, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, International Federation of University Women, and United Schools International. The Council is today holding a full day of meetings, which will next continue at 3:30 p.m. with its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, whose presentation of their reports this morning can be seen here. The Council will then hear the presentation of reports by the Advisory Committee and the Intergovernmental Working Group on the rights of peasants, followed by a general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms. Opening Statement MONA RISHMAWI, Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, opened the discussion on follow-up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The annual half-day discussion, along with the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, provided significant opportunities to discuss the extent of the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. One year ago, the General Assembly had held its high-level plenary meeting known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, where Member States had renewed their commitment to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, with the active participation of indigenous peoples. States had committed themselves to real action in areas such as the impact of major development projects on indigenous peoples and the participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making. Another key commitment was to step up work to combat violence against indigenous women. The real test of the Conference’s outcome document was how decisively Member States, indigenous peoples, the United Nations system and other stakeholders would follow it up. The outcome document envisaged the development of a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was contributing to that work through the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues, with the goal of drawing up a concrete plan, leading to real action. States had also committed themselves to considering ways to facilitate the participation of indigenous people’s representatives. In that regard, the role of the United Nations Voluntary Fund was particularly important. Enhancing indigenous people’s participation also required firm measures to end the harassment and intimidation that too many indigenous peoples continued to face as a reprisal for their legitimate defence of their human rights. Statements by the Moderator and Panellists VICTORIA TAULI CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and panel moderator, said that the objectives of the panel were to take stock of measures undertaken by States and other stakeholders to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; identify good practices and challenges in the implementation of the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples at the national and international level; and to provide an opportunity to discuss human rights-related elements of the outcome document, including the review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Human Rights Council’s examination of the causes and consequences of violence against indigenous women and girls, the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations processes, and the United Nations system-wide action plan for the achievement of the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. ALBERT KWOKWO BARUME, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that after the World Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2014, Africa continued its slow but steady progress in promoting indigenous peoples’ rights, including the first public hearing of the first case on the rights of indigenous people by the newly established African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in November 2014, the integration of indigenous peoples’ rights in the agenda of several African national human rights institutions, and others. However, the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in Africa remained of great concern, as they continued to suffer from land dispossession, violence against indigenous women remained unabated, access to basic services remained well below national averages, and children tended to drop out of schools in large numbers. The lack of implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa was not entirely due to the lack of political will, but also due to the lack of capacity and resources that constrained many African States. Building the capacity should be a priority for the United Nations, and in that sense, the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be revisited with a view to addressing its disconnect with African policy debates. Mr. Barume highlighted the particular human rights situation of indigenous peoples in conflict-affected parts of Africa, and the continued reports of mass killings, rapes, abductions and displacement of indigenous peoples caught in conflicts in the Central African Republic, Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other parts of the continent. A renewed Expert Mechanism’s mandate, with a focus on capacity building, technical assistance and policy framework, should also target several key actors in Africa that continued to show a lack of understanding of indigenous peoples’ issues, including businesses, media and the African Development Bank which remained the only regional bank without a stand-alone policy on indigenous peoples. MYRNA CUNNINGHAM KAIN, Member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples and former adviser to the President of the General Assembly for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, recalled the scope of international law relating to the rights of indigenous peoples and the achievements of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and recalled international standards relating to territorial rights. She underlined the responsibilities of the private sector. She referred then to the rights of indigenous women and to discrimination they faced, and underlined the important role of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in that regard. She highlighted some initiatives undertaken by indigenous women in Colombia and Nicaragua to promote their rights. It was important for States to develop national action plans. She presented initiatives by the Board of Trustees in Nicaragua to support the elaboration of such plans. She invited other States to support this first stage of initiatives and the implementation of the outcome document of the World Conference. ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ CRAVIOTO, Director for International Affairs of the Mexican National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, reaffirmed Mexico’s commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples and to implement the commitments of the outcome document. It was a priority to continue efforts to push forward individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Mexico had carried out a programme seeking to strengthen social and economic protection for indigenous peoples, as well as indigenous people’s access to justice, health, education, food and housing. It had also carried out joint activities between the executive and the judiciary to strengthen leadership by indigenous women. The development of a plan of action would have to be the result of a consultative process, inclusive of all stakeholders. At the international level, Mexico had been a leader in pushing indigenous rights further, and supported the strengthening of the international mechanism for the rights of indigenous peoples. JANINE LASIMBANG, Secretariat Director of the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, said that indigenous people’s participation at the World Conference could be seen as an important example of self-organizing. Several years of meticulous preparations had ensured that the World Conference would have a substantive outcome. All participants had contributed to the successful Conference, whose outcome document had become a living document. Many indigenous organizations in Asia had translated and distributed the outcome document. A new website, www.indigenousnavigator.com, was a good tool for following the progress on the subject. The process also included exchanges of experiences between indigenous peoples from different continents. The Malaysian indigenous organization was working on training and sharing best practices with others. Active cooperation between indigenous peoples and the Government needed to be strengthened and further developed. Member States were urged to view that collaboration in a positive manner. The United Nations also provided an important avenue through which indigenous peoples could push for a higher level of support from international organizations on the implementation of various programmes in a timely and effective manner. National human rights institutions also had an important role to play, as they could help protect indigenous peoples’ rights in line with the Declaration. In Asia, the selection of commissioners was not an inclusive and transparent enough process. The independence of national human rights institutions ought to be recognized and they needed to be provided with adequate budgets and have indigenous representatives on board. Discussion European Union welcomed concerted global efforts to fully make the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a reality, and the recommendation to the United Nations Secretary-General to develop a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration. Finland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, supported the review of the Expert Mechanism for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and asked what measures could ensure a more meaningful dialogue between indigenous people and States at existing fora. Russia said it was important for the implementation of the outcome document to focus on encouraging sustainable development of indigenous peoples and said that the review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism must be conducted with attention to avoid a negative impact on other existing mechanisms. Brazil suggested that the revised mandate of the Expert Mechanism could include, inter alia, assisting States, upon their request, in monitoring and evaluating progress and overcoming obstacles to better achieve the goals of the Declaration, including in the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendation related to indigenous peoples. Spain asked the panellists how the Expert Mechanism might assist in improving the principles of ownership of indigenous people of their own development. Australia stated that it continued to give effect to the outcome document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples through practical approaches to addressing indigenous disadvantages, with both mainstream and targeted programmes. El Salvador noted that it took on commitments to guarantee the rights of all children, regardless of their origin, and it was also mapping indigenous people and their leadership. Poland stressed that it was continuously committed to identifying opportunities and challenges related to the full and effective realization of indigenous peoples’ rights, in particular including more of indigenous women in the political process. Peru noted that ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples was a national priority, adding that it was necessary to monitor closely the effective implementation of indigenous peoples’ wishes on how to live. Sierra Leone appreciated that the panel had focused its attention on violence against indigenous women and girls, stressing that the root causes of such violations should be analysed and laws strictly applied. Philippines stated that its national educational system was geared towards providing indigenous peoples with education tools and content that were in line with their culture and social context. Ukraine was concerned over continuing human rights violations against Tatars in Crimea due to the Russian Federation’s illegal occupation of the peninsula, which were not being investigated and perpetrators were not prosecuted, leading to a vicious circle of violence there. Defence for Children International underlined the vulnerability of indigenous women and girls to sexual violence, human trafficking and other abuses, and pointed at Colombia’s gaps in effectively addressing violence against indigenous women and girls. Indigenous World Association underlined the importance of the implementation of the World Conference outcome document through national plans of action, and highlighted the importance of States engaging actively with indigenous peoples in the elaboration of such plans. Native-American Rights Fund, in a joint statement with National Congress of American Indians and Indian Law Resource Center called for the establishment of an international permanent body monitoring the implementation of international standards relating to indigenous issues, composed notably by representatives of indigenous peoples, and underlined the importance of addressing the needs of indigenous women and girls. Panellists’ Remarks VICTORIA TAULI CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and panel moderator, summarized the questions and issues raised in the discussion, including measures to ensure more meaningful dialogue between indigenous peoples and States, examples of best practice in achieving the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the national level with the participation of indigenous peoples, and the mechanisms which might assist the inclusion of indigenous peoples’ views into development plans. MYRNA CUNNINGHAM KAIN, Member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples and former adviser to the President of the General Assembly for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, said that in order to improve indigenous peoples’ ownership of development, it was important to ensure that cultural diversity was a core element in any development strategy, participation of indigenous peoples in all stages of development of a strategy, respect for lands and territories and controls over natural resources by indigenous people, and respect for traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples. States could support initiatives that came from indigenous peoples who supported their own developmental processes, or support experiments of self-governance which were practiced by indigenous peoples in some parts of the world. JANNIE LASIMBANG, Secretariat Director of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, said that the Universal Periodic Review was an important constructive dialogue in which issues of indigenous peoples had been debated. Ms. Lasimbang noted that in many instances, the recommendations that dealt with issues of particular importance to indigenous peoples such as land issues, or recognition of indigenous peoples, were not accepted by States. One good practice in the participation of indigenous peoples in governance, recognized as such by the Expert Mechanism, was the national inquiry on land rights of indigenous peoples conducted by the national human rights institution of Malaysia. ALBERT KWOKWO BARUME, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that dialogue was key, but it had to be kept on the country level. In the African context, capacity building was critical. Very few African indigenous peoples attended the sessions of the Human Rights Council. Bringing the international dialogue to the national level was thus essential for indigenous peoples to find out about the ongoing discourse on indigenous rights. New Zealand’s model of indigenous peoples monitoring the implementation of relevant programmes was exemplary and inspiring as one of the best practices. ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ CRAVIOTO, Director for International Affairs of the Mexican National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, noted there were many spaces for indigenous peoples in the international arena and they should be effectively used. In the case of Mexico, there was a consultative body composed of indigenous people’s representatives that met three times per month to assess how the policies that affected them were implemented. Better feedback from indigenous communities to the Government would provide better indicators, which would in turn improve the quality of policy-making. Policies on indigenous peoples should always be in harmony with their culture and social context, Mr. Cravioto stressed. Discussion United States said it was preparing a strategy aimed at reducing the amount of tribal cultural property that was inappropriately offered and sold abroad, and said that States should consider implementing already existing international provisions on cultural property rather than adopting an additional international instrument. Canada asked how could States support the establishment of appropriate accreditation procedures that would enable indigenous representatives to attend and participate in relevant meetings of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies. Chile stressed the importance of including indigenous people in the reviewing process of indigenous mechanisms of the United Nations, and underlined the importance of including indigenous women. Republic of Congo said it had undertaken a national process to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples, leading to numerous initiatives on the ground aimed at tackling discrimination and stereotypes against indigenous people. Bolivia said it had been carrying out a strategic plan to fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. Estonia emphasized the important role which indigenous people played in revitalizing and developing cultural traditions for present and future generations, as well as their right to participate in decision-making in matters that affected them. Guatemala stated that it was actively participating in the follow-up of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and it shared the idea of establishing a mechanism that would guide States in ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples. New Zealand acknowledged that much work still had to be done in that country to improve the rights of Maori women and girls, and to that end the Government was working with those communities. Malaysia stated that the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples, held in New York in 2014, provided a proper consultative mechanism involving all relevant stakeholders to reflect on the way forward in the realization of indigenous rights. China said that indigenous peoples had a splendid history and culture, but due to colonialism their land had been grabbed and nowadays they were living on the margins of society in many countries. Holy See said that the systemic violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in some parts of the world continued, violence against indigenous women was pervasive in many countries, while the increasing arrival of foreign investments into many countries further exacerbated the loss of land and resources of indigenous peoples and led to significant environmental destruction of their territories. International Fellowship of Reconciliation said that in Mexico, there was impunity for the crimes committed against indigenous peoples, including the killing of women or community leaders, while mega projects threatened territories and also displaced indigenous communities or diverted water from their settlements. International Federation of University Women called attention to indigenous educational deficit which ranged from generalized exclusion to limited access to the upper levels of primary and secondary education, with admittance to higher education still being the exception, while minority women and girls faced the greatest challenges. United Schools International said that policy makers in Pakistan rarely took into account the adverse impacts of mega water projects on indigenous peoples and made inadequate efforts to compensate and rehabilitate the affected communities. Concluding Remarks JANNIE LASIMBANG, Secretariat Director of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, in concluding remarks, said in response to Malaysia that lands of indigenous peoples was an important issue that had implications on the protection of indigenous cultures. The free and informed consent from indigenous peoples had to be respected in that regard. Sustainable development programmes could achieve a more harmonious manner of implementing projects. Sustainable development goals and the rights of indigenous peoples should meet in a positive manner. ALBERT KWOKWO BARUME, Member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said the challenge was to take the conclusions of this debate to the national level. The question of balancing indigenous rights with national development was also particularly relevant in Africa. This question should be viewed with the perspective that development should leave no one behind. Enhancing the legal framework could attract further international investments. ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ CRAVIOTO, Director for International Affairs of the Mexican National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, in his concluding remarks outlined the efforts of Mexico to provide technical and legal assistance to local communities for the harmonization of local legislation with the national one on the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples. Courses were offered to bilingual indigenous lawyers. Mexico shared that good practice with Peru and Brazil. MYRNA CUNNINGHAM KAIN, Member of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples and former adviser to the President of the General Assembly for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, thanked delegations of States and civil society for their comments and questions. She appreciated a number of comments on the issue of violence against indigenous women and girls. Relevant governance models needed to be developed by States in order to empower women. Political participation by indigenous women to that end was particularly important. As for the educational system for indigenous peoples, it had to be integrated in national school curricula and offered in indigenous languages. Some countries were already improving their dialogue systems with indigenous communities. Ms. Cunningham Kain emphasized the very important role played by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples in the fulfilment of the rights of indigenous peoples. VICTORIA TAULI CORPUZ, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and panel moderator, said it was encouraging to hear contributions from Governments, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations and academia representatives. The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples had been a very good practice because it had demonstrated the various efforts made by the United Nations agencies and the various players and because it had come up with a concrete plan that spelled out what needed to be done to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a better fashion. The international community should pursue achieving the concrete recommendations outlined in the outcome document. Indigenous peoples still faced dire situations of poverty, social exclusion, discrimination and situations where their land was taken away from them. Any society would be judged according to how it faced and responded to the needs of its most vulnerable sections. Monitoring of the outcome document’s recommendations was therefore key in achieving full rights for indigenous peoples.

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